Probate is the process by which a judge oversees the distribution of your estate and assets once you die. While the probate process does ensure everything is fairly divided and distributed, it can also be a bit of annoyance for your heirs to have to go through. It will take your heirs longer to get what you have left them, and there may be some legal process they have to go through. For this reason, it's smart to take actions while you are alive to ensure your estate does not have to go through probate once you pass. There are a few ways to do this.
1. Add your heir to your title.
If you own a house or other real estate, a good way to avoid the probate process is to add the person who you want to inherit the home to the title while you're still alive. For the time being, you will both be owners of the home. Then when you pass, the home will automatically be left to the other person on the title. If you still have a mortgage on the home, you will need to work with the bank to refinance in order for this plan to work. If you own the home outright, you just need to meet with an attorney to have ownership transferred.
2. Give items away.
You could also give certain items away to your heirs while you're still around. Of course, this only works for certain items -- you can't very well give someone your car if you are still driving it every day! Many people take this route for items like antique cars, valuable jewelry, and cash. Talk to a probate and estate attorney before you give anything away that's worth more than a few hundred dollars, as you may have to pay gift tax -- depending on your situation and the state in which you live.
3. Set up a transfer on death.
This works best for motor vehicles, trailers, campers, and other more expensive items for which there is a title. Set up a transfer upon death -- a document that indicates that when you pass, the item is automatically transferred to another individual. Some states do not allow this for vehicles, or for vehicles over a certain value, so again -- you need to check with your lawyer and local laws before making this move.
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